In a clearing in the woods, nestled above an attractive seaside hamlet just north of Copenhagen, one of the pearls of Danish cuisine may be difficult to find, but attention to detail and the accessibility of Nordic cuisine is in the capable and passionate hands of one of Denmark’s few top lady chefs.
By Julian Isherwood
The past couple of months have been extraordinarily busy for Anita Klemensen. Ensconced in a small, listed red building in a listed woodland above the hamlet of Taarbæk (pronounced Torebeck) she has overseen the redecoration of a restaurant that is as tastefully Nordic as its gastronomy.
A mere 10 kilometres from the centre of Copenhagen, the Michelin starred restaurant that Klemensen has run for several years now may look like a cosy overgrown doll’s house, but the quality of its cuisine and attention to detail have earned it a reputation that is anything but small, putting it in the top – and affordable - echelon of Danish haute gastronomie.
“We only use seasonal raw materials, and with a few exceptions, we only use Danish produce,” Klemensen says proudly, adding that even the mushrooms the restaurant uses are picked in the woods around Den Røde Cottage.
Flanked by a perfectly laid group table, if there’s one thing the 36-year-old owner-chef mourns, it is not being able to spend enough time among the pristine cooking utensils in the wooden kitchen that adjoins her elegant small restaurant.
“What I have wanted to do with the restaurant is to provide a cosy gastronomic experience, with good food and wine at affordable prices,” says Klemensen as we sit at one of the 9 downstairs tables in her bright and newly refurbished premises.
“When we opened we wanted to have a restaurant that when people had been here they wanted to have another serving. Sometimes when you go to a restaurant, it’s all so technical that you need time to absorb it all. We have wanted a restaurant with good food, beautifully presented but accessible and not too difficult and technical,” she adds.
Perhaps one of Klemensen’s secrets of success is that she has developed menus of foods that she likes and that have a full range of texture.
“When you take a bite of our food, you get all the taste nuances that are there and you both have something to bite into and something soft,” she says, adding that while her kitchen is part of the new Nordic cuisine movement, it does borrow some few elements from elsewhere.
“Our food is made from seasonal raw materials and only the raw materials that are in season. But we do borrow a bit of chocolate, liquorice or vanilla from elsewhere as we don’t have them in Denmark, she says, adding diplomatically; “We’re not as hysterically Nordic as others. If we feel that there’s a dish that needs chocolate – then it gets chocolate”.
Nonetheless, the energetic, liquorice-loving owner of Den Røde Cottage says that the development of the new Nordic cuisine movement has dragged Denmark much higher up on the ranking gastronomic ‘must experience’ list.
“Many other countries have been good at using their own raw materials – but up here we haven’t been as good at it. The movement has meant that we now, for example, pick our herbs out in the woods, and use mushrooms when they’re out in the garden. Really, Nordic cuisine basically just means that we begin to use the raw materials that we have in the Nordic region,” she says.
She adds that apart from the top gastronomic establishments, the movement has also had a major effect on eateries providing less expensive food. Not least, she says, the movement has made it more fashionable to learn the chef’s trade, awakening an interest among young people.
For guests at the 130-year-old house that has previously housed a kindergarden and forestry official’s home, there is little doubt that Klemensen’s vision for her restaurant has come to fruition as expressed by the Michelin guru.
“Small but romantic dining room set with Royal Copenhagen porcelain; lovely terrace offers partial sea views,” The Guide says, labelling her team as ‘talented’.
That team offers a monthly seasonal menu, which when interviewed included lumpfish roe, cod, sweetbreads, veal, bouillon d’oignon and – chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.
The latter, as with a fine selection wines and armagnacs, as the only ingredients for Den Røde Cottage’s gastronomic experience, not to be of Nordic origin.